Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, one of our nation’s pre-eminent experts on value-added assessment, here reviews a TED-X talk by Tennessee Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman, boasting of the tremendous growth in test scores as a result of his policies. Beardsley points out the curious fact that Tennessee started using VAM in the 1990s with little to show for it. But, there were those Tennessee NAEP scores, proof positive, according to both Huffman and Se rotary of Education Arne Duncan that Race to the Top–or Huffman’s personal presence–was creating strong results. Nd in the end, results (test scores) are what matter most, right?

But what about those NAEP results that Huffman and Duncan tout?

Beardsley writes:

“While [William] Sanders (the TVAAS developer who first convinced the state legislature to adopt his model for high-stakes accountability purposes in the 1990s) and others (including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan) also claimed that Tennessee’s use of accountability instruments caused Tennessee’s NAEP gains (besides the fact that the purported gains were over two decades delayed), others have since spoiled the celebration because 1) the results also demonstrated an expanding achievement gap in Tennessee; 2) the state’s lowest socioeconomic students continue to perform poorly, despite Huffman’s claims; 3) Tennessee didn’t make gains significantly different than many other states; and 4) other states with similar accountability instruments and policies (e.g., Colorado, Louisiana) did not make similar gains, while states without such instruments and policies (e.g., Kentucky, Iowa, Washington) did. I should add that Kentucky’s achievement gap is also narrowing and their lowest socioeconomic students have made significant gains. This is important to note as Huffman repeatedly compares his state to theirs.”

Read the post. It is a very good demonstration of how data get used and misused for political purposes.